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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Major Mea Culpa Manifested in Yahoo Class Action Settlement

Today Yahoo is sending out details of a settlement in a Class Action lawsuit about its negligent and sloppy provision of partner traffic to advertisers, dating back through the Overture days and all the way back to GoTo.com, before Yahoo even owned a PPC engine. The story is presented as a minor hiccup by a couple of news outlets as of this writing. Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land points to the $20 refund component, though by my reading that's only reserved for any company that is now "out of business."

In the letter, Yahoo makes the usual noises about a settlement not being evidence of any admission of guilt.

But the description of what advertisers give up if they opt into the class reads like a detailed overview of every nefarious practice in pay-per-click advertising sales since the beginning of recorded time. (After the jump, the cut-and-paste.)

More important than the small refund is Yahoo's agreeing (1) to give advertisers a tool to fully control partner placement; (2) to better disclose online on the "Traffic Quality" portion of their website where traffic may come from; and (3) to enhance something called the "Click Investigation Request Tool" advertisers use to request information on specific traffic partners.

This non-admission-of-guilt will seem to many advertisers like a full recap of the often slippery relationship Yahoo has maintained with reality, especially in the realm of partner traffic. It comes as an albeit hollow victory for the many advertisers who were treated as an ATM by click arbitrageurs, rogue publishers, and Yahoo themselves.

And now for the ugly stuff:

"The Settlement will release Class members' Released Claims against Yahoo!. The complete definition of "Released Claims" is set out in the Settlement Agreement, which is available atwww.inreyahoosettlement.com or from the Claims Administrator. In summary, and without limiting the definition of "Released Claims" set forth in the Settlement Agreement, Released Claims include any and all claims, causes of action, demands, rights, liens, obligations, suits, appeals, sums of money, accounts, covenants, contracts, controversies, attorneys' fees and costs, expenses, losses, damages, judgments, orders, promises whatsoever, known or unknown, matured or unmatured, suspected or unsuspected, concealed or hidden, whether sounding in law, equity, bankruptcy, or in any other forum, from January 1, 2000 through and including September 22, 2009, that have been or could have been asserted in the Action. This release includes without limitation any and all claims concerning domain parking sites and pages; typosquatting sites and pages; bulk-registered domain name sites and pages; software applications; downloadable applications; pop-ups; pop-unders; "sliders"; "sidebars"; "injected ads"; adware; spyware; malware; malicious software; error implementations and pages; email campaigns; clicks that result from self-targeting; untargeted or random placements within the Distribution Network; ads displayed on sites or pages that lack any bona fide content, or any content at all; or ads shown to Internet users who have not conducted a search or viewed bona fide content related to a Yahoo! pay-per-click text advertisement."

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yahoo Ad Agreement: Google Won't Proceed

My sources just informed me that Google has pulled out of the advertising agreement with Yahoo, citing regulatory interference.

Although it is a short term loss to Yahoo's bottom line, I believe ultimately it's healthier for competition to keep the two companies more at arm's length and for Yahoo to continue to develop their own, proprietary platforms.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, April 12, 2008

Reminder: YSM Minimum Bids Going to .01

Yahoo writes to remind us that sometime next week, their bidding system will switch over from the fixed minimum bids at .10, to the sliding scale similar to Google's, that has a theoretical minimum of .01 and much higher minimums for keywords that rate poor on the Quality Index.

You can always keep tabs on developments at the YSM Blog. Reading the most recent post, I also see some very sensible advice - campaign strategy is largely about building an intelligent, relevant structure. So planning leads to greater success. They compare it to building the Pyramids.

What a coincidence. At a seminar last week, I reminded folks that if you expect to build a glorious mansion, you can't just throw it up there with no plan or blueprint. Then again, if you have a tiny little campaign that looks more like Snoopy's Doghouse, then you probably needn't worry so much. Strap yourself in and get going.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mastering Panama Now Available

Further to my last post, Mona Elesseily's new comprehensive report on the Yahoo! Search Marketing platform is now available for purchase in the Page Zero store. Just in time for your fall marketing campaign!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, August 03, 2007

Mona Elesseily Gets Strange Birthday Card

My colleague Mona is celebrating a birthday over the weekend. What a great coincidence, because I've just received the final layout of her great new report, Mastering Panama, which will launch to the public in a couple of days (oh the joys of self-publishing). They won't let you send champagne through the mail in socialist British Columbia, so for now we'll have to get creative in wishing her the best.

Mona's been driven to distraction by this project -- nothing like being the author and layout supervisor all at the same time as holding down your day job -- hence this, um, sympathetic cartoon whipped up by the good folks over at Search Engine People portraying a gaggle of industry authors who have most certainly been there.

Stay tuned for launch!

Congratulations Mona!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, June 04, 2007

Yahoo to Release Quality-Based Content Click Pricing

Today Yahoo! announced quality-based pricing for clicks coming from distribution partners in the sponsored search and content match programs. Similar in intent and implementation to Google's "Smart Pricing," it will automatically discount a publisher's click revenue (and the amount the advertiser pays for that click) by "a certain percentage" based on traffic quality as measured by conversion rates and other factors.

This systematizes the same process that has taken place with interactive ads for years: advertisers run tests, find out which sites convert well, and reprice their offers when they re-order, lowballing the low quality publishers.

My take:

This is a much-needed initiative for Yahoo!. Although it will initially dampen revenue, it will put Yahoo's relationship with advertisers on a solid foundation, allowing for future growth. I've witnessed first hand the slow increase in the ROI graph on Google's content network, to the point where we now feel confident bidding on this inventory in almost every advertiser account (although still lower than we bid for search inventory, usually). Smart Pricing has been an important part of this picture, as blunt an instrument as it may seem to some publishers. It's worth noting that by taking away ill-gotten revenue from bad publishers, these networks can afford to pay out better to quality publishers.

This initiative will further cramp click arbitrageurs' style, though not all forms of arbitrage will be negatively impacted, because not all publishers are part of the same content network (did you know that?) so different rules might apply. That being said, these distribution partners that are classified as falling under "sponsored search" appear to be subject to the new quality-based pricing; however, nothing some select partners won't be whitelisted or made exempt from the policy.

One possible criticism of such policies (I called this an "actuarial" approach to content pricing when Google rolled it out 38 months ago) is that it's a way of blunting criticisms of fraud-prone distribution partners without actually offending the partner network by taking direct action. In other words, it's an abdication of past responsibility for click fraud in the network, while trying to quietly rectify the problem. A further indication of a gradual acceptance of responsibility for the quality of the partner network is in point 17 of the FAQ's: "Although we do not currently offer the ability for advertisers to opt-out of particular sources of traffic, this is a feature that we plan to begin offering later in 2007." Good thing, because for some partner traffic, as far as many advertisers are concerned, the only smart price is zero.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, March 02, 2007

Yahoo Search Marketing Minimum Bids - UK vs. US

Yahoo has recently clarified that they'll be sticking with the $0.10 min bid in the U.S. and discontinuing grandfathered bids.

Which should make it surprising that they're dropping the minimum in the UK to 5p - except that 5p works out to roughly 10c. So it's about the same in both places.

Either way, most of the time these minimums don't matter. If your market is in any way competitive you'll soon be paying significantly more than this to stay visible, even if you're "lowballing."

It's interesting to notice that Peter Hershberg doesn't feel the need to couch this story as "under Panama". Peter's company does a lot of paid search. He understands that whether you call the platform Panama, Kumquat, Sasquatch, or Guantanamo, a minimum bid is a policy having nothing to do with the interface per se.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, February 05, 2007

YSM Confident in Canadian Rollout

Last week I attended the Yahoo Search Marketing launch event in downtown Toronto (held at Kai Lounge). It's intended to confirm to Canadian advertisers that yes, now you can use the full suite of search marketing tools to target just Canadian searchers; you can geotarget; and you can do all of this using the new Panama platform. This is now live with a full complement of support reps available to provide support and assistance. My company hasn't worked with a huge number of Canada-only campaigns in the past, but coincidentally demand for it is now picking up and questions about Yahoo are increasingly common now that companies are aware of it as a second option after AdWords. An example of a field where you pretty much won't be marketing "across the board" to the U.S. and Canada would be a highly regulated area like drug trials or pharmaceuticals. As another example, a major Canada-only ecommerce site I'm pitching right now will benefit immediately from the Yahoo rollout. Money will no longer be left on the table due to platform limitations. What were companies doing in the past? Well, nothing. You couldn't buy PPC just for Canada through Yahoo.

For those who are confused by this latest launch event - because it's the second time Yahoo has held a launch event for YSM in Toronto in the past few months - I think this latest was more of a "we're flipping the switch" reminder to a selection of businesses who are particularly plugged into the scene. The previous event was broader-based and intended to gain media attention and to introduce the local advertising community to a range of Yahoo execs.

Of course for oldtimers in the industry there was little new here, but the agency community and larger advertisers should take note that Yahoo consistently refers to the extensible nature of the Panama platform. Eventually (similar to Google's trajectory), you'll be able to bid on a range of media through the auction. That consolidation is healthy but it's going to be awhile before it reaches critical mass.

I'm not sure how accurate this is, but at a dinner following the event I was told that the Yahoo Canada team has grown to well over 100, currently all crammed into the Front Street office (though they're still on track to move to a more spacious location sometime this year). The team specifically devoted to search marketing is smaller, of course - Yahoo's a diversified company so that explains the "well over 100" number.

I haven't seen much coverage of this event, other than Sulemann Ahmed's brief overview. What Sulemann didn't cover was the door prizes. In keeping with the company's fun image they had a few giveaways for those who handed in business cards. After the first ho-hum drawing, all eyes were on the next prize: the video iPod. I apologized to the friend standing next to me, warning her that "I always win the door prizes at these things." The next thing you know, her name was being called as the owner of a new iPod! So much for me being evil. :)

The final door prize, dinner and Raptors tickets, was going to be a great way for me to treat some of my buddies, so I was really looking forward to winning that one. Unfortunately, Martin Byrne (Director of YSM Canada), the MC, called me over to do the drawing, so I was ruled out! A guy from Lavalife won it. I apologize for having trouble reading his name (small white print on a bright red business card). Or maybe this was because I still had my eyes shut from the random drawing process.

It is just good to see that due to an influx of full time Yahoo people in Toronto, there are more search-savvy people to discuss customer targeting with and to generally advance the cause. Some staff have been lured back from sojourns in the UK and continental Europe - call it Canada's brain gain. Yahoo plans a full slate of events to evangelize search to marketers in Canada, beginning with some introductory level academy type courses (by a third party company) at a very reasonable cost.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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